This trial arises from President Donald J. Trump’s incitement of insurrection against the Republic he swore to protect.

House impeachment manager’s pre-trial brief

This week’s featured post is “Why You Can’t Understand Conservative Rhetoric“.

This week everybody was talking about the impeachment trial

Which starts tomorrow. Both the prosecution and the defense have filed briefs outlining their positions. The prosecution (technically the “impeachment managers from the House”, but I think that’s a needless mouthful of words) requested that Trump himself testify, and he has refused.

He could be subpoenaed, but that would undoubtedly set off a long litigation that Democrats would rather avoid. Instead, I believe the purpose of asking for Trump’s testimony was to make it clear that it’s his choice not to speak under oath, where his lies could result in perjury charges. Whenever the ex-President’s lawyers make some claim about what he was thinking or what he intended, prosecutors can point out that this is hearsay, and that they wanted to get direct testimony but were rebuffed.

If he did testify, this cartoon from his first impeachment would be relevant again.


CNN explains why both sides want a speedy trial: Democrats don’t want the Senate distracted from approving Biden’s nominees for too long, and Republicans want the country to stop thinking about the January 6 insurrection.

It looks like the lawyers have prevailed on Trump not to use the impeachment trial to repeat lies about his “landslide” victory over Biden, and how it was stolen from him. Instead, they’ll claim (falsely) that it’s unconstitutional to hold an impeachment trial for an ex-president. That allows Republican senators to acquit for procedural reasons, without supporting or justifying the insurrection Trump incited.

BTW: Every statement coming out of the Trump camp refers to him as the “45th President”. He is not allowing his people to call him the “ex-president” or “former president”, presumably because he still does not acknowledge that Biden (or anyone else) is the 46th president.

However, his lawyer’s claim that the proceedings are unconstitutional rests on the fact that he is no longer president. One reason he doesn’t want to testify, in my opinion, is that he could be asked questions like “Is Joe Biden the President of the United States?” or “Did Dominion voting machines send results overseas to computers that flipped your votes to Biden?”, where his answers would mark him as either delusional or a liar.

and the Covid relief bill


It’s good to see Biden avoiding the bipartisan trap Obama fell into in 2009. The point of “unity” is to give Republicans a bill they could support, and that many of their voters do support, but Biden can’t control whether any Republicans will vote for it. Biden knows the public will hold him responsible for the results, so his first priority is passing the bill the country needs. That’s why he hasn’t backed off of his $1.9 trillion proposal.

It seems likely the House will pass it with few changes. The question is whether it gets through the Senate, which it will if all 50 Democrats vote for it and Vice President Harris provides the tie-breaking vote. Friday, the Senate passed a budget resolution on party lines. That is a procedural prerequisite for invoking the filibuster-proof reconciliation process to pass Covid relief.

Republicans are complaining about this tactic, which they used to pass the Trump tax bill, claiming that it shows a lack of commitment to bipartisanship. But in reality, the only hope of getting Republican support is to have a Plan B if they won’t get on board.

In general, I think Democrats should compromise in only two situations:

  • What Republicans are asking for is actually a good idea.
  • The changes Republicans want don’t make the bill significantly worse, and they will vote for the bill if it is changed.

Too often, the Obama administration compromised with Republicans, got none of their votes anyway, and then were blamed by the public for the less-effective bill.

The big question is whether the Senate Democrats can hold together. Joe Manchin of West Virginia is the most likely defector, but so far he is staying on board. He is insisting on a “bipartisan process”, but says that means “Democrats and Republicans will have amendments”, not that the bill will be held hostage until it can get Republican votes. It helps that West Virginia’s Republican governor has come out in favor of a big relief package.

and the Covid statistics turn

Fewer Americans are now hospitalized with Covid than at any time since the Thanksgiving wave started. New cases are down sharply, to 107K Saturday from 318K on January 8. Deaths are edging lower, but not by nearly as much: The average number of daily deaths for the past week is 2800, down from several days above 3300 in mid-January. Deaths are always the last statistic to turn. In a week or two the daily average should be well under 2000.

Those are all numbers we would have considered horrifying in October. But at least they’re headed in the right direction now.

Everyone is complaining about the vaccine distribution process, but it is happening. By yesterday, 31.6 million Americans had gotten at least one dose, and 9.1 million were fully vaccinated.

The interesting question is how demand will hold up. Right now, many more people want to be vaccinated than can get appointments. But at some point, all the people who describe themselves as “eager” to be vaccinated (like me) will have had their shots. Then the burden will shift to coaxing reluctant people to be vaccinated. Nobody is sure when that shift will happen.

Johnson & Johnson has applied for approval of its vaccine, which is simpler but somewhat less effective. It is one shot instead of two, and can be stored in an ordinary refrigerator. The AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine is nearly ready to apply for approval as well. It is a two-dose vaccine, but can be stored in a refrigerator.

HuffPost posted the article “It’s Not Just You. A Lot of Us Are Hitting a Pandemic Wall Right Now.” I realize that’s supposed to be reassuring: There’s nothing wrong with you; it’s perfectly normal to want to run naked through the streets with an AR-15.

Somehow, though, I’m not comforted by the thought that everybody else in the world is just as close to the end of their rope as I am.

and the QAnon lady* in Congress

[* I’ve heard MSNBC’s Nicolle Wallace refer to her that way, and I kind of like it.]

As I pointed out last week, freshman Georgia Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene has promoted a lot of truly horrific ideas over the last few years, both orally and on social media. Wednesday, the House Republican caucus decided she is not a problem, and no disciplinary action is needed.

Democrats were not having that, so Thursday evening the full House voted to kick her off of the committees the GOP had assigned her to: Education and Budget. Only 11 Republicans voted for that resolution; the rest support her.

In the debate over that resolution, Greene gave a self-justifying speech; some Republicans have said it was similar to the speech she gave to the Republican caucus before it decided not to punish her. I link to the full text so that you can judge it in context, without relying on me (or anybody else) to interpret it correctly.

Having provided that backstop, here’s what I see in her speech.

  • She avoided taking responsibility. “The problem with that is though is I was allowed to believe things that weren’t true and I would ask questions about them and talk about them.” Who “allowed” her to repeat all those crazy things? What does that even mean?
  • She falsely claimed that her objectionable statements are all from years ago, and all from social media. “If it weren’t for the Facebook posts and comments that I liked in 2018, I wouldn’t be standing here today and you couldn’t point a finger and accuse me of anything wrong.” Actually, things she has said and done in person are just as disturbing, and she was defending QAnon as recently as December 11: “Asked by @ryanobles on Pelosi saying GOP has ‘QAnon in [their] caucus,’ Marjorie Taylor Greene said ‘I don’t think there’s anything wrong w/ people looking things up & not believing things in the news…it’s unfair to criticize regular Americans looking things up on the internet’.” On December 4, she praised a pro-Q news article.
  • She falsely claimed that her words have been taken out of context. “Big media companies can take teeny tiny pieces of words that I’ve said, that you have said, any of us and can portray us and to someone that we’re not, and that is wrong.” The full context of her statements usually makes them worse, not better. Last week I called your attention to a completely unhinged 40-minute video she uploaded to YouTube in 2018. Even if she had completely repudiated all the claims she made then, people’s habits of thinking don’t turn over that quickly (at least not without some kind of medication). The lunatic in that video should not be making decisions for our country.
  • She equated QAnon with the mainstream media, and in particular equated believing that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to the conspiracy theories of QAnon. “I started seeing things in the news that didn’t make sense to me like Russian collusion, which are conspiracy theories also, and have been proven so … Will we allow the media that is just as guilty as QAnon of presenting truth and lies to divide us?” Reports from both the Mueller investigation and the bipartisan Senate Intelligence Committee concluded that Russia intended to help Trump get elected, that Trump knew they were helping, and that (at least in some instances) his campaign welcomed that help. That doesn’t sound like Jewish space lasers to me.
  • She vaguely alluded to changes in her views, but did not specifically deny any previous claim. For example, she said “School shootings are absolutely real. … 9/11 absolutely happened.” But she did not say that the Parkland school shooting (the one she badgered survivor David Hogg about in 2019) really happened, or that a plane really did strike the Pentagon on 9/11. While saying in general that she had “stopped believing” parts of QAnon, describing it as “a mixture of truth and lies”, she never said which parts she denies and which she still thinks are true. Does she, for example, still believe that top Democrats are pedophiles who drink children’s blood? (On January 31 she tweeted: “What would the list of the anti-Trump pedos and associates look like? It would likely contain all of the people currently frothing with MTG hate.”) At a bare minimum, I think Greene should submit to questioning about such things. I’d start with: “Is David Hogg a crisis actor, or was he present at a real event where his classmates were murdered?”
  • She did not acknowledge that she advocated violence against other members of the House, apologize for advocating violence, or disavow violence going forward. CNN’s KFile claims to have seen videos Greene has since deleted from her Facebook page, which she said that Nancy Pelosi was guilty of treason, which was “punishable by death”. She liked comments that talked about executing Pelosi and other Democrats by hanging or firing squad.

Weirdly, in a tweet the day after the Capitol Insurrection, Greene accused numerous Democrats of being “accomplices” to “Antifa/BLM terrorism”, and added: “Those who stoke insurrection & spread conspiracies have blood on their hands. They must be expelled.”

Josh Marshall makes a good point:

Q is not a “conspiracy theory”. The faked moon landing was a conspiracy theory. Perhaps birtherism was a conspiracy theory, though one with similarities to QAnon because of its strong ideological valence. But Q is not a conspiracy theory. It’s a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals (and everyone else outside its definition of true Americans) in an imminent apocalyptic political reckoning. What we call the ‘conspiracy theories’ are simply the storylines and claims that justify that outcome. They could easily be replaced by others which serve the same purpose.

In other words – and this is still a very basic confusion – the Q phenomenon is not a factual misunderstanding that more credible news sources or prevalent fact-check columns would deflate and tame.

In the big picture, it’s not all that important whether or not Greene believes that the Clintons sabotaged JFK Jr.’s airplane or George Soros started a California wildfire with a space laser. But whether she is still part of “a fascistic political movement which predicts and advocates mass violence against liberals” matters a great deal.


and protests against Putin

Alexei Navalny, the opposition leader Putin had poisoned, returned to Russia on January 17 after recuperating in Germany, and was sentenced to 2 1/2 years in prison for violating his probation on an embezzlement charge that he claims was trumped-up to discredit him. Since returning, he has been a symbol of opposition to Putin, inspiring protests around the country.

The center of the protests is not Navalny’s personal popularity, but the failures of the Putin regime, which is corrupt, has let economic inequality get worse, and has not handled the pandemic well.

But economic inequality is the reason that people are most unhappy with Putin, according to research by Moscow-based independent pollster, the Levada-center. Some 45% of respondents faulted Putin for “failing to ensure an equitable distribution of income in the interests of ordinary people” in 2018, up from 39% in 2015. In Russia, the top 10% own 83% of the country’s wealth, making it the most unequal of the world’s largest economies followed by the U.S. and China, according to Credit Suisse Research Institute in 2019.

and you also might be interested in …

A memo from new Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin:

We will not tolerate actions that go against the fundamental principles of the oath we share, including actions associated with extremist or dissident ideologies. Service members, DoD civilian employees, and all those who support our mission, deserve an environment free of discrimination, hate, and harassment. … I am directing commanding officers and supervisors at all levels to select a date within the next 60 days to conduct a one-day ” stand-down” on this issue with their personnel. Leaders have the discretion to tailor discussions with their personnel as appropriate, but such discussions should include the importance of our oath of office; a description of impermissible behaviors; and procedures for reporting suspected, or actual, extremist behaviors in accordance with the DoDI. You should use this opportunity to listen as well to the concerns, experiences, and possible solutions that the men and women of the workforce may proffer in these stand-down sessions.

A number of former and active-duty military people were involved in the Capitol Insurrection, and there are other signs that the military has a problem with white supremacist groups recruiting in the ranks.

Biden is taking steps to get ICE under some kind of control.

“They’ve abolished ICE without abolishing ICE,” said one distraught official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because that person was not authorized to speak to the media.

I suspect the distraught official is exaggerating, but I wouldn’t be sorry if he weren’t. Trump’s ICE was a rogue agency that knew nobody above them cared about the people they could detain.

I find it weird that lawsuits by corporations are the most effective ways to strike back at political disinformation.

A voting technology company swept up in baseless conspiracy theories about the 2020 election filed a monster $2.7 billion lawsuit on Thursday against Fox News, some of the network’s star hosts, and pro-Trump attorneys Rudy Giuliani and Sidney Powell, alleging the parties worked in concert to wage a “disinformation campaign” that has jeopardized its very survival.

I can’t vouch for how they figure the $2.7 billion, but the basic idea of this suit makes a lot of sense: A group of people knowingly spread lies about Smartmatic, and those lies had dire financial consequences for the company. Another lied-about voting-tech company, Dominion, has already sued.

Within days, Fox News had axed Lou Dobbs, who helped spread many of Trump’s election-fraud conspiracy theories on the air.

Suits like Smartmatic’s are rare, because they’re hard to win — unless the person who smeared you does it really blatantly. Josh Marshall explains:

The Supreme Court rightly put a very high bar on success in libel suits for public people and entities. You have to be wrong. And you have to have known you were wrong or have had a malicious indifference to whether you were right or wrong. It’s very hard to [meet] that standard. …

The Smartmatic/Dominion cases are the first case at scale that seems almost to try out the Sullivan standard. Fox and various other pro-Trump entities made numerous, repeated and HIGHLY damaging claims which certainly in the cases of the institutions and almost certainly with the individuals (with Lindell he may simply be crazy) they [knew] were false.

The Texas Republican Party has endorsed legislation that would ask the voters whether they want the state to secede. I wonder what they would do if they didn’t love America so much.


The U.S. trade deficit over the four years of President Donald Trump’s presidency soared to its highest level since 2008, despite his tough tariff tactics intended to bring it down, a new Commerce Department report showed on Friday.

The combined U.S. goods and services trade deficit increased to $679 billion in 2020, compared to $481 billion in 2016, the year before Trump took office. The trade deficit in goods alone hit $916 billion, a record high and an increase of about 21 percent from 2016.

Like most of what he did, Trump’s trade policy was mainly a reality show. It was always more about creating the appearance of action than achieving results.

President Biden has decided that Trump should not get intelligence briefings, which former presidents usually have access to. While he was president, Trump occasionally let some valuable piece of intelligence slip, but Biden refused to speculate about what he might do now. What Biden did say was revealing:

I just think that there is no need for him to have the — the intelligence briefings. What value is giving him an intelligence briefing? What impact does he have at all, other than the fact he might slip and say something?

The main reason former officials of all sorts are given access to intelligence is that current officials might want to consult them about ongoing situations that have roots in the former official’s tenure. When he says there’s “no need”, Biden is really saying that he can’t imagine a situation where he’d want Trump’s advice. It’s a subtle but devastating barb.

and let’s close with something unexpected

Who knew that a two-cello mash-up of Beethoven’s Fifth and Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love” would work?

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  • David Goldfarb  On February 8, 2021 at 3:53 pm

    In terms of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine being “somewhat less effective”, note that the measure by which its effectiveness is less is, “do you get sick at all”. For both the J&J vaccine and the Moderna / Pfizer vaccines, even those recipients who did get sick got much milder cases. Nobody in their studies was hospitalized, still less died.

    So if somebody offered me this deal: I get the J&J vaccine right now but I can never have the Moderna or Pfizer — I’d jump at it. 66% chance that I don’t get sick at all, and 100% chance that if I do, it’s milder than the flu? Sign me up. The difference between 66% and 90% isn’t big enough to wait for.

    • Anonymous  On February 9, 2021 at 11:39 am

      Thank you for this comment.

  • Timothy Swanson  On February 8, 2021 at 5:26 pm

    When concerts are safe again, post Covid, you should go see 2Cellos in concert. They are outstanding live – particularly their U2 covers.

  • rmc0917  On February 11, 2021 at 4:43 pm

    Regarding Texas’ secession, is there an organization promoting this to which I can send a check?

    • weeklysift  On February 13, 2021 at 6:26 am

      I’m reminded of the exchange in “West Side Story”:

      “I think I go back to San Juan.”
      “I know a boat you can get on. (bye-bye)”

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